”A philosopher once asked, ‘Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?’ Pointless, really…’Do the stars gaze back?’ Now that’s a question.”
They do more than gaze in Stardust, a quirky, enjoyable film that’s not the epic tale it’s made out to be. The film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel of the same name, Stardust is a tale about a young man from a small English village who gets caught up in a magical adventure in another realm. With evil witches, fratricidal princes, and a cross-dressing sky-pirate, there’s a lot of fantasy in Stardust, but director Matthew Vaughn’s penchant for Lord of the Rings-style sweeping cinematography creates a canvas much too grand for this simple fairy tale.
Our hero, Tristan (Charlie Cox, The Merchant of Venice), lives in a village called Wall, so named because it lies next to an ancient stone wall rumored to separate the real world from a magical realm. Tristan doesn’t know it, but his father crossed over the wall for a one-night stand with a beautiful girl about nine months before Tristan’s birth. Now Tristan’s a young man, and smitten with a girl of his own, the beautiful, shallow Victoria. In his efforts to win Victoria’s fickle hand, Tristan vows to bring her back a fallen star from beyond the wall. Little does he know that the fallen star is no lump of space-rock, but a lovely young woman, Yvaine (Claire Danes, Romeo & Juliet).
Tristan’s not the only one with an interest in Yvaine. First, there are the seven princes of Stormhold – some dead and ghosts, some alive – who must find an enchanted jeweled necklace Yvaine is wearing in order to become the realm’s new king. Then there are the witches, led by Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer, What Lies Beneath), who seek to cut out and eat Yvaine’s heart, which is apparently the key to everlasting youth.
Tristan must protect Yvaine from the princes and the witches if he ever hopes to win Victoria’s love, but that’s no small task when he understands nothing of Stormhold and its magic. With the help of Captain Shakespeare (Robert DeNiro, The Good Shepherd), their friendly neighborhood transvestite pirate, the pair just might have a chance.
The cast is strong. We’ve got Pfeiffer as a deliciously nasty witch, DeNiro as a bizarrely feminine pirate, and a ragtag crew of Brits as the hilarious Stormhold princes, including Mark Strong, Rupert Everett, Jason Flemyng and Little Britain’s David Williams. Other highlights are Peter O’Toole (Stuntman) as the dying king, and Ricky Gervais as a nervous fence. The leads, Cox and Danes, are effective but don’t stand out against the film’s well-rounded ensemble.
The most surprising aspect of Stardust is its humor – I lost count of the laughs early on, and took particular enjoyment in the gang of ghost princes and their backstabbing, commiserating commentary. DeNiro is also a blast, though his character begins to wear on you after several minutes of prancing in a corset.
Director Vaughn (Layer Cake) has said he wanted Stardust to be a cross between The Princess Bride and Midnight Run. At times, these comparisons ring true, but the smaller moments of brilliance don’t mesh with the film’s overall style, which shows the unfortunate influence Peter Jackson’s epic fantasy trilogy had on Vaughn’s project. Don’t get me wrong, Lord of the Rings is tops in my books, but Tolkien’s epic masterpiece and Gaiman’s graphic novella are two very different animals. Each time the camera swooped high above the land to show characters charging around on horseback, I found the magic of Stardust interrupted.
So, how’s the Blu-ray?
Stardust is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p high-definition image is brought to you through an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at 30 mbps. The film benefits from a great transfer, bringing the fantasy to life with gorgeous colors, rich detail and no sign of compression issues or source artifacts. There’s a lot feast your eyes on in Stardust, from the eccentric costumes and wild countryside to the varied and unique sets courtesy of a crackerjack production design team led by Gavin Bocquet (Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith).
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is the strongest thing the film has going. I loved the Eskeri score but found it to be too grand for what was being depicted on the screen. A score should complement an image and be nearly invisible to the audience. Instead, I loved the music but not the images. Dialog is usually clear enough, and there are some rather nice surround moments in the film. A bright spot in an otherwise dreary landscape.
There are also a full 23 other languages to choose from here.
- Good Omens: The Making of Stardust: At 30 minutes, this making-of featurette provides a fairly in-depth look at the production, including plenty of input from author Gaiman, director Vaughn and assorted members of the cast and crew.
- Deleted/extended scenes: Five minutes of material, including a couple of gags and an extended ending that thankfully didn’t make the theatrical cut.
- Bloopers: My wife’s favorite, these gaffs and gags are actually pretty amusing. The reel runs about five minutes, with plenty of physical comedy like Cox falling, and falling…and falling some more.
- Trailers: The original theatrical trailer for Stardust, along with a collection of previews for other Paramount features.
Stardust isn’t the equal of The Princess Bride, Midnight Run, or any installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but it does reflect aspects of each, and it’s absolutely worth your time. And if you cross over the wall and fall in love with Stardust, rest assured this Blu-ray will be a fine addition to your collection.
Parts of this review were written by Gino Sassani